Facts Matter: Planned coronavirus vaccine won't alter DNA

  • The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial gets the shot in May at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

    The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial gets the shot in May at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP

Updated 11/21/2020 5:16 PM

The recent news about two different vaccines that show promise in combating the coronavirus was followed by social media posts that tell a different, false story.

One widely shared Instagram post claimed the vaccine "will alter the DNA with a RNA coding that will remove parts of your DNA and replace it with genetic coding (that will) disable the ability of spirituality and cause people to have to cooperate with the New World Order/One World Order."


The vaccine, which will involve injecting genetic material into cells, cannot alter DNA or control people's behavior, a scientist told PolitiFact.com.

"That's in the realm of science fiction," Mark Lynas, a fellow at Cornell Alliance with Science at Cornell University said.

Because the vaccine will inject genetic material, unlike traditional vaccines that inject an inactivated or weakened virus into the body, it could be easier to adjust as the coronavirus mutates, Lynas said.

Columbia University professor Brent Stockwell told PolitiFact that converting RNA into DNA isn't possible without a special enzyme contained in some viruses, and COVID-19 doesn't contain the enzyme.

"The DNA of people who take mRNA vaccines is unaffected," he said.

Facebook flagged these posts as false news and misinformation.

Press secretary overestimates crowd size

Supporters of President Donald Trump last week gathered in Washington for several events, including the Million MAGA March, the March for Trump and Stop the Steal DC.

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"More than one MILLION marchers for President @realDonaldTrump descend on the swamp in support," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Twitter as the Nov. 14 protests were set to begin.

McEnany is overstating the crowd size, according to PolitFact.com. News organizations covering the events reported the number of attendees as "thousands" or "tens of thousands."

McEnany posted a photo of the crowd at 11:16 a.m., nearly 45 minutes before the scheduled march time, showing the group near Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House. MapChecking, an online crowd-size estimation tool, said it's not possible for more than 135,000 people to fit in that area, PolitiFact said.

After the rallies, pictures from the day were posted on social media. But some of the photos showing the largest crowds weren't taken that day or at that event, according to USA Today.


Three of the photos a Facebook user posted to show the crowd were actually from a 2016 rally in Cleveland, Ohio, after the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship. Cleveland officials said more than 1 million people attended that event, USA Today said.

Another photo claiming to show the recent Trump rally was taken in 2018 in London as an estimated 700,000 people were protesting the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

Biden's dog isn't supersized

A photo circulating on social media shows President-elect Joe Biden sitting on a bench, partially obscured by a very large dog.

"Biden's dog is huge!" a Twitter user wrote.

The canine is, in fact, Biden's German shepherd, Major, but the photo has been manipulated to make the dog look unrealistically large, like Clifford or Marmaduke, according to The Associated Press.

The original photo, with the normal-size dog, was taken in 2018 when Biden adopted 10-month-old Major from the Delaware Humane Association animal shelter in Wilmington, Delaware.

"Only in our wildest dreams did we imagine Major would become first dog-elect," Cory Topel, the shelter's marketing manager, told the AP.

Major, along with the Bidens' other German shepherd, Champ, will be accompanying the family in the move to the White House.

No cellphone in 1860 painting

A recently shared image of an 1860 painting making the rounds on social media shows a distracted young woman walking while she appears to be looking at a cellphone. Some internet users even claimed the painting supports the idea of time travel.

But art experts quickly pushed back, pointing out that the woman is carrying a prayer book, not a phone, according to Snopes.com.

The painting, "The Expected One," by Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, shows the woman walking down a path with her gaze focused on an object in her hands. A young man holding pink flowers appears to be waiting for her.

"The girl in this Waldmüller painting is not playing with her new iPhone X, but is off to church holding a little prayer book in her hands," Gerald Weinpolter, CEO of the art agency austrian-paintings.at, told Vice Media Group.

A manipulated version of the image was posted on Pinterest, showing a glow on the woman's face making it appear she is illuminated by the iPhone screen.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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